Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week Events Canceled Due to Pandemic

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The Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH) is recognizing drowning prevention efforts across the islands as the state observes Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week on Sept. 20-26.

While the annual on-scene beach safety events such as State Ocean Safety Conference and Jr. Lifeguard Championships have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a statewide campaign, “Ocean Safety Amidst a Pandemic: Keeping your Ohana Safe,” will showcase radio spots and other safety messaging from water safety officials in each county. The counties and the Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee express gratitude to Archie Kalepa and OluKai for sponsoring these efforts during Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week.

With COVID-related travel restrictions, the number of visitors at local beaches is drastically reduced, but all counties have seen an increase in residents going fishing and participating in other shoreline and beach activities. Counties are highlighting various efforts to keep people safe in and around the ocean.

According to the DOH, residents comprised eight of nine fatal ocean drownings in Hawai‘i since April (compared to only four of the 14 fatal drownings from January through March, the pre-lockdown period in Hawai‘i). Fatal ocean drownings in the state are projected to be about 50% lower than the annual average of 82 over the last five years. Freediving continues to be one of the most common activities among resident drowning victims, accounting for nearly half (5) of the 12 fatal incidents between January and July 2020.


Hawai‘i Island has historically had the highest proportion of resident drownings. Ocean safety and rescue services were involved in assisting several residents who were fishing or diving and went missing during various incidents in the early part of the year.

Assistant Fire Chief Darwin Okinaka encourages divers and ‘opihi pickers to use a tight buddy system and asks adults to keep a close eye on children, especially around coastal areas. He notes, “Shoreline activities, such as fishing and picking ‘opihi, account for more than one-third of fatal ocean drownings among Big Island residents. We stress the importance of being aware of the current ocean conditions and don’t take chances if they’re unfavorable.”

Hawai‘i Beach Safety Week is dedicated to Hawai‘i Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee member and long-time water safety advocate Ray Sanborn, who passed away unexpectedly last week. Sanborn was a founding member of the advisory committee and an enthusiastic contributor to drowning prevention efforts for decades. Sanborn was president and CEO of Kama‘aina Kids.



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